The Reference Letter; How To Get One, How To Write A Letter of Recommendation


Your Business Blogger(R), also known as Your Business Professor has written dozens of recommendations for hundreds of students, clients, friends and vendors.

Question: If I wrote dozens of letters, then how did hundreds of people get a written recommendation from this very generous, very perceptive and very busy business consultant?

Answer: I didn’t write them.


I used to write recommendations all the time.

Before I got smart. (This took a long time…)

Referance_letter_of_recommendation012-thumb-200x258Linked here is a glowing recommendation from a United States Congressman for Your Business Professor for a presidential appointment. Note the glowing language. The detailed biography. The compelling argument.


Wow! That Congressman must really know Jack! Were they roommates in college? Are they cousins? Did they serve jail time together?


The Good Congressman hardly knows me to send me anything other than a Christmas card.

No, the Good Congressman didn’t actually write my recommendation.

I did.


Why did a Very Busy Big Boss sign-off on a letter to Your (unknown) Business Professor?

Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., the late Speaker of the House during Reagan’s presidency, directed his staff to, don’t take nobody that nobody brought. That the Speaker would only use his resources for someone who was sponsored by a trusted adviser.

A trusted third party…

To get a recommendation from a Very Busy Big Boss, find a friend who the Boss trusts. A trusted staffer.

With input from the trusted staffer, I composed a draft of my recommendation, which was, of course, fact checked, spell checked and signature ready for the Big Endorser’s OK.

This is important: Very Important Busy People don’t have time to write anything. They have speech writers.

If you want an endorsement or a recommendation, you will need to become a speech writer.

For your own content.

This is the first lesson in Completed Staff Work for subordinates. The Big Boss should only make decisions and sign his name.

The Boss does not do any work.

“Work” in the form that the individual contributor or staffer would recognized.

I tell Interested Parties if they want a written recommendation from me on why someone should hire them — the Interested Party must first draft the letter so that I would know why I would make such suggestion.

Some one is going to have to do the thinking and the work for me.

This is how senior management works.

Some Interested Parties might suggest that Your Business Blogger(R) is not very bright and certainly very lazy.

Perhaps so. But.

This is how senior management works.


Now that the Alert Reader understands who really does the thinking and the working, let’s review what should go into the writing of the recommendation.

Symmetry and Chemistry

The letter is written for a Big Boss to be read by another Big Boss. Well, OK, maybe not. Maybe your letter will be signed by an auto-pen (or secretary) and read by a trust adviser (or secretary).

The Letter of Recommendation has two purposes,

1) To assure the gate-keeper that your criminal record is irrelevant or that those tattoos are not visible with modest clothing (noticeable only in that YouTube video that you can’t get deleted). And,

2) To get you a face-to-face appointment for the interview.

The Big Boss probably will not see your letter and/or resume until you walk in his office. (Remember, he’s got staff to work and to think for him.)

The Hiring Manager is looking to answer two questions with Symmetry and Chemistry:

  • Do we have the same values?
  • Will we all get along?

Your Letter of Recommendation gets you two together. So what should it look like?

Personnel is Policy

The wife of Your Business Professor, Charmaine, worked in the Office of Presidential Personnel for Ronald Reagan who often said, “Personnel is Policy.” No President or senior leader can make every decision at every level but he can have have trusted deputies who can act in the president’s best interest — making decisions that the president would make if he had enough time.

Your Letter of Recommendation should indicate that you will make recommendations and think and act just as The Boss would think and act.

Academics, journalists, consultants and even real managers will tell you that they are looking for independent, free-thinking individuals who advance independent thought and action.

This, of course, is a lie.

Managers want subordinates who will offer well thought-out recommendations and work to persuade The Boss — But once The Boss makes a decision, the subordinate will implement the decision as if the decision were the subordinate’s.

You will be hired for your wisdom and judgment.

Problem, Solution, Result

Give a short example of a problem you faced, a solution you devised and the result of your initiative.

“[Problem] When faced with a sudden snow storm, Mr. Jones rented a snow plow [solution] and cleared the parking lot assuring that customers could get to the store front where he worked as a cashier. His initiative not only provided a customer service and safety but increased the store’s daily sales [results].”

Atta-Boys and Girls

What actions won you what awards? What superlative? All-American? Honor Roll?

“Mr. Jones never missed a session in my Business 100 class.”

“Miss Jones volunteered as a researcher to find a solution to a BlackBoard software problem I was having.”

“Mr. Jones would bring guests to my open lectures.”

“Miss Jones got an “A” in my class and regularly contributed to the discussion.”

“Mr. Jones was consistently on time.”

“Miss Jones worked part-time while attending and completing her undergraduate course work.”

Look and Feel

The letter should be a single page, single spaced, 12 point type, on 8-1/2 X 11 inch, with a conventional front like Times New Roman.

Your draft should allow space for the Big Boss letter head and signature block.

If there is an address to a third party, provide it in the body.

Be sure to (gently) alert the Big Boss of any deadlines or suspense dates.

If the letter is to be mailed directly from the Big Boss to a third party, request a blind copy to be mailed to you. We want to know how the Big Boss Staff may have modified your draft.

Ask someone to preview your social networking pages. Not sure about that bikini picture on Facebook? Take it down. Never have a picture taken with any, ANY kind of beverage in your hand — alcohol or not. Water looks like vodka.

So, put the drink down and take your name tag off when the cameras are close. Including cell phone cameras — especially cell phone cameras.

Do not use your too-familiar nick-name, Corky. Change your too-familiar email address, hotstuff@hotmail.

…So What?

Your reference letter or letter of recommendation is a one-page sales sheet; a marketing campaign to get you hired.

If you have had a real problem in your past, like that really interesting YouTube, email me for a consult. (Hint: I was young and needed the money is not a defense.)

Your Business Blogger(R) was still able to get a job after that unfortunate bar fight, street racing and other assorted events in his wasted youth. (No, no, not THAT wasted…)

And no, I do not need to see that video. Really.


Four steps to getting a job.

How your boss should evaluate your performance, Helping sentences for employee evaluations

Tattoos on your job search?

Letter of recommendation; Note Problem-Solution-Results template.

Be sure to carefully check your spelling when drafting a letter…

Letter of Recommendation To Whom It May Concern This letter can be used for any application where the decision maker’s name is known-or not.

Letter of Recommendation Job Opening



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